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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Saturday, 26 August 2006
Weekend Notes: Odd Insights, Old and New
Topic: Perspective
Weekend Notes: Odd Insights, Old and New
One of the writers at Hullabaloo here takes us back to December 2002, of all times. But it's not so odd.

That's where you will find this, a conversation with Norman Mailer "about Iraq, Israel, the perils of technology" and why he is a "Left-Conservative." One wonders just what that is. But he's an old man now and can come up whatever labels he'd like. And the extended interview appears in The America Conservative, which is an odd venue for an old lefty. But at the time he'd pretty much had it with where we were going. You get what he's up to we the title - "I Am Not for World Empire."

Who is? Well, maybe we all are. Four years have passed and he seems to have gotten some things right.

The whole idea here is that he wants to make some differentiations among conservatives, and in the sixth year of Republican control of the White House, both houses of congress and much of the judiciary, many are looking for answers. Two endless major wars and a third on the way, massive debt when there had been a surplus, government that just doesn't work - from the Hurricane Katrina business to the Medicare drug plan that no one understands and will get much worse when "the doughnut hole" arrives soon - record gasoline prices, record healthcare costs and the end of housing bubble when the refinance engine that fueled the economy just stops… how did we get here? Who are these people we decided are the ones who should run things?

So you go back and look under any rock to see if someone has or had any insight into the motivations of these folks. And under one rock is an old interview with Mailer. And it offers some help.

He knows the old-fashioned kind of conservatives -what he calls the "value conservatives" because they believe in what most people think of as the standard conservative values - family, home, faith, hard work, duty, allegiance - dependable human virtues. And then there are those he calls "flag conservatives." We're in the sixth year of the latter. They've been running things, and on this premise, that they assume we all share -
There is just this kind of mad-eyed mystique in Americans: the idea that we Americans can do anything. So, say flag conservatives, we will be able to handle what comes. Our know-how, our can-do, will dominate all obstacles. They truly believe America is not only fit to run the world but that it must run the world. Otherwise, we will lose ourselves. If there is not a new seriousness in American affairs, the country is going to go down the drain.
And he explains this summer's defection from the cult of Bush by the old-line conservatives rather well, just four years early -
I don't think flag conservatives give a real damn about conservative values. They use the words. They certainly use the flag. They love words like "evil." One of Bush's worst faults in rhetoric (to dip into that cornucopia) is to use the word "evil" as if it were a button he can touch to increase his power. When people are sick and have an IV tube put in them to feed a narcotic painkiller on demand, a few keep pressing that button. Bush uses evil as his hot button for the American public. Any man who can employ that word 15 times in five minutes is not a conservative. Not a value conservative. A flag conservative is another matter. They rely on manipulation. What they want is power. They believe in America. That they do. They believe this country is the only hope of the world and they feel that this country is becoming more and more powerful on the one hand, but on the other, is rapidly growing more dissolute. And so the only solution for it is empire, World Empire. Behind the whole thing in Iraq is the desire to have a huge military presence in the near-East as a stepping stone for eventually taking over the world. Once we become a twenty-first century version of the old Roman Empire, then moral reform will come into the picture. The military is obviously more puritanical than the entertainment media. Soldiers can, of course, be wilder than anyone, but the overhead command is a major pressure on soldiers, and it is not permissive.
Mailer certainly packs a lot in there, but the themes are clear - amass power and change the world and get everyone in line. It's all about control and a sense that we have to be saved from our lower, baser selves.

Could this be so? They're not just keeping us safe and otherwise staying out of everyone's way?

Here's the argument that is not so -
You see, behind flag conservatism is not madness but logic. I'm not in accord with the logic. But it is powerful. From their point of view, America is getting rotten. The entertainment media are loose. They are licentious. The kids are getting to the point where they can't read, but they sure can screw. Morals are vanishing. The real subtext may be that if America becomes again a military machine that is huge in order to oversee all its new commitments, then American sexual freedom, willy-nilly, will have to go on the back burner. Commitment and dedication will become necessary national values (with all the hypocrisy attendant on that.) Flag conservatives may see all this as absolutely necessary.

… The point I want to make is that - let me do it in two parts: First, there was a fierce point of view back when the Soviet Union fell. Flag conservatives felt that was their opportunity to take over the world because we were the only people who knew how to run the world. And they were furious when Clinton got in. One of the reasons he was so hated was because he was frustrating what they wanted. That world takeover, so open, so possible from their point of view in 1992, was missed. How that contributed to intense hatred of Clinton! This attitude, I think, grew and deepened and festered through the eight years of the Clinton administration. I don't know if White House principals talk to one another in private about this, but the key element in their present thought, I suspect, is that if America becomes an empire, then of necessity, everything here that needs to be strengthened will be affected positively. By their lights! If America grows into the modern equivalent of the Roman Empire, then it will be necessary to rear whole generations who can serve in the military in all parts of the world. It will put a new emphasis again upon education. Americans, who are famous for their inability to speak foreign languages, will suddenly be encouraged and over-encouraged to become linguists in order to handle the overseas tasks of empire. The seriousness of purpose will be back in American life. These are, I suspect, their arguments. They are not mine. I am not for World Empire. I can foresee endless disasters coming out of that.
But it worked so well for the British, didn't it? Maybe he's just being paranoid. But in some odd ways it sound just about right.

And then there's this on the now almost official state religion, evangelical Christianity -
Flag conservatives are not Christians. They are, at best, militant Christians, which is, of course, a fatal contradiction in terms. They are a very special piece of work, but they are not Christians. The fundament of Christianity is compassion, and it is usually observed by the silence attendant on its absence. Well, the same anomaly is true of the Muslims. Islam, in theory, is an immensely egalitarian religion. It believes everyone is absolutely equal before God. But the reality, no surprise, is something else. A host of Arab leaders, who do not look upon their poor people in any way as equals, make up a perfect counterpart to the way we live with Christianity. We violate Christianity with every breath we take. So do the Muslims violate Islam. Your question, is it a war to the end? I expect it is. We are speaking of war between two essentially unbalanced inauthentic theologies. So, it may prove to be an immense war. A vast conflict of powers is at the core and the motives of both sides are inauthentic which, I expect, makes it worse. The large and unanchored uneasiness I feel about it is that we may not get through this century. We could come apart - piece by piece, disaster after disaster, small and large.
They are "evil" and we are "good" - we have the flags and yellow ribbons to prove it.

So it's an old item. And he's a strange man. But then, he may have called this one right, not that is does any good now. We have what we have.

As for new items, Friday, August 25th, Bill Maher launched the new season of his political show "Real Time" on HBO - some of it flat and some of it pointed. The issues were the same ones Mailer covered years before, just with contemporary details. What Mailer didn't address was another component of "flag conservatism" - the whole idea that science has led us astray and faith tells us more than science ever will. His "new rule" (one of his satiric routines) started off with him talking about how awful it was that those uppity scientists decided Pluto wasn't a planet at all, after all - they "cut and run" on Pluto! - and then he veered into gay marriage and abortion and global warming and intelligent design and all sorts of areas where the government is telling us the science is wrong, and the evangelicals are right. You can watch it here, with the key line - "I say it's time for the United States to sever its ties with science all together and withdraw from the solar system!"

To be fair to Norman Mailer, most of the administration's war on science was waged after the interview in the conservative magazine, but it is another issue that has come up.

See this -
Recently there was some controversy when the Bush Administration accidentally left off evolution from a list of subjects eligible for government grants - whoops! But Mark Noonan at Blogs for Bush has an even better suggestion: That we just leave off science altogether. The debate between Evolution and Intelligent Design, he says, "got me thinking, and today ii [sic] occured [sic] to me: science is dead. We have reached the end of the Age of Science." I must say I haven't been so happy since we reached the End of History. What is especially great about Noonan's theory that science is dead is that he doesn't have to conduct any experiments or present any evidence to prove science is dead because science would actually have to be alive to do that.
Okay. Fine. So one has to read Mark Noonan here.

That's what the man says. No one believes science any more. There were just too many hoaxes, from the Piltdown Man to Darwin. How can you trust these people? And now we find Pluto was never a planet.

Noonan maintains, curiously, that taking religion out of the schools may have been what caused the downfall of science -
Why did science stray from the path of truth? I think it is because we ceased educating the men of science with a knowledge of religion.
We should have taught them about religion. You see, all they wanted was facts about how things worked and to do practical things, and this "search for something immediately practical" led to Marxism and the Holocaust and all.

His conclusion -
The truth will out - and that means that the quest for the truth will continue, and that will mean that efforts in science will continue to yield results... but the Age of Science is over, killed off by lies. I don't regret its passing - hopefully we will soon start to really educate people, so that even as they pursue science, they keep it in perspective, and in relation to the real human condition.
He doesn't define "the real human condition" of course. But he's sure science has little to do with it.

You can't make this stuff up. Mailer may have been onto something, but he gave the interview far too early. Bill Maher will have to do.

Posted by Alan at 19:01 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 28 August 2006 07:15 PDT home

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